Barry Manilow may be on what he's calling his One Last Time! Tour — exclamatory emphasis his — but he wants everyone to know this isn't goodbye and farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodnight.
"There's that joke that the prostitute says: 'It's not the work, it's the stairs,' " Manilow laughed during a recent phone interview. "That's me. It's not the work, it's the stairs. It's getting there. That's what it is."
Yes, after all these decades, the road has taken its toll on the 72-year-old singer. Each gig he plays — like Thursday's concert at Tampa's Amalie Arena — could be the last time he visits that dot on the map of America. And he doesn't sound all that torn up about it.
"Packing again, and getting on a plane and going to a hotel — it's just awful," he said. "At this point, it's a young person's thing. So I'm saying I'm getting off the road."
But then he adds a caveat.
"Come back in two years, and who knows?"
Yeah, see, there's really no quit in the Brooklynite born Barry Alan Pinkus. You don't become one of the world's best-selling artists, without an insatiable hunger for the spotlight. Manilow wrote and sang some of the defining soft-rock singles of the '70s and '80s — Mandy, Looks Like We Made It, Copacabana (At the Copa) — and earned legions of near-obsessed "Fanilows" in the process.
And while he's not writing as much new material these days ("When I write something, I put my blood into it, and if it doesn't make it on an album, or if I haven't got anyplace to put it, it winds up in my piano bench, and it just lays there"), he is always thinking about his next project. When he called from his home studio, he was hard at work on a new album — half originals, half standards, "a nice concept," he said.
"I still feel like I'm 35 and I'm still working and I've got all these things to do," he said. "I'm working on the show, I'm working on the album. I'm always working on something. … I'm telling you, I still feel like I've got the same energy that I've always had. I shouldn't. I'm 100 years old. I shouldn't feel like that because a lot of people my age are old. They feel old, they look older. I'm just a different guy."
This month, Manilow is up for a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for 2014's My Dream Duets, a collection of duets with long-gone stars like Louis Armstrong, Marilyn Monroe and Whitney Houston. Incredibly, if My Dream Duets wins a Grammy, it would be only Manilow's second, following a 1978 statuette for Copacabana. But he's not exactly losing sleep over his acceptance speech.
"I always lose to Tony Bennett! Always!" he said. "I've been nominated in that category, like, four times so far. And each time he made an album — each time! — he wins. So I'm not counting on that one anymore."
The technology that allowed him to create My Dream Duets also enables him to perform a few of those songs in concert — Sunshine On My Shoulders with a disembodied John Denver, for example, or Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart with Judy Garland. But for the most part, this One Last Time! show eschews his newer songs and deep cuts in favor of all his biggest hits — a thank-you to every fan who's ever supported him, and even those who haven't.
"And I'm happy to do it," he said. "I've never done a full show of just familiar songs. I'm one of the lucky guys that has a catalog that I could actually fill up 90 minutes with songs that everybody knows. And I've never done that. So I guess that's the farewell element in this show."
Of course, considering the reactions these hits still get from Fanilows across the country, who's to say this really will be the end?
"I love my band, and the people that are with me, and the audiences are so fantastic," he said. "Who would ever say you don't want to do that again?"
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.